Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 02/14/13
Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt
1. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Cairo to London is about 4.5 hours; I think NYC is about 12 hours.
2. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
(The contributor is a diplomat who has been living in Cairo for a year, a sixth expat experience.)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly apartments, some villas. Quality is uneven; some are better than others. But like everything else in Egypt, nothing is well-maintained. Commuting time depends on where you live and work. If you live and work in Maadi, the commute is very short. If you work at the British or one of the other embassies in Garden City and live in Maadi, even though it's only about seven miles, that commute can take up to an hour-and-a-half at worst. Traffic is terrible, and driving habits are the worst I've seen anywhere -- and I've been around.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Prices on the local market for groceries can be cheap for some items and expensive for others. As was mentioned previously, local produce is plentiful but must be rinsed with bleach. The American Embassy has a commissary here that most people I know use, and I understand prices are decent there.
3. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurant quality is rather uneven. Some are very good, many are not so good. Almost all fast-food chains are here, but the products don't taste much like what you find in the West. Prices in large measure depend on the targeted customer base. Restaurants that target Westerners charge prices Westerners would usually expect to pay.
4. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
The same kind of insect problems you have in any city where trash is strewn about. Especially when it's warmer, there are lots of pesky and persistent flies.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
You can use international mail, some embassies rely on the diplomatic pouch, and the U.S. has an APO here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Varies. I do see a fair number of Filipinos working as housekeepers and nannies; they generally cost significantly more than Egyptians. I know some expats hire Egyptian drivers to avoid the stress headache of dealing with the traffic, but I'm not sure about their level of satisfaction.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There are a number of very good gyms in Cairo, including Gold's.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I haven't had a problem so far, but I am very careful about where I take out money, due to crime here. I also try to use ATMs stationed at reputable establishments --- malls, office buildings, and so on.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
A fairly wide variety of denominational churches offer English services, and there is a synagogue here. Whether any mosques offer English services I don't know.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
There is a satellite package called OSN here that some people subscribe to for English programming. Nilesat has a fair number of English channels, and the Armed Forces Network is available to Americans stationed here.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
If all you ever do is interact with expats, and if you have a driver who speaks Arabic, then you can get by with little. You'll also feel very restricted and claustrophobic. English is not as widely spoke here as one might expect. Not having any Arabic is a handicap and will impact morale.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are absolutely no accommodations for the handicapped. It's unliveable.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I avoid all of them. None are safe for different reasons, although all are cheap. Train accidents occur more frequently than I'm comfortable with, buses are always crammed, and taxis are not at all advised for women traveling alone. It's good to find one driver you trust and use him to the extent you can. People use the Metro in Cairo. It's not everybody's cup of tea, though, and Metro stops can become flashpoints for protests. It is essential that you follow the news on what's going on where and when.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I brought a vehicle, but I've sort of resigned myself to the idea that it is going to get hit at some point here. In retrospect, it is probably better to come without one. Drivers are cheap, and you can find one with his own car. So, unless you have a family to cart around, you may want to think twice. I hear service can be an issue, and carjackings can be a problem depending on where you are and the time of day.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Well, technically yes. I have ADSL and paid for 4MB, the fastest offered by TEdata. But in reality, the speed is never anywhere close to that. The service does go down more often than I would like, and the speed frequently slows to the point where streaming is a headache.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We have an account with Vodaphone and are satisfied with it.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business at work. Men can get away with shorts in the neighborhoods that are heavily populated by expats. As a woman, I wouldn't expose much skin anywhere. It's just asking for trouble. As I said, sexual assault has gone up sharply, and while the way a woman dresses is no excuse for attacking her, it's good judgment not to draw any more attention to yourself than you have to. Some non-Muslim Egyptian women have taken to covering themselves to avoid harassment, and there have been stories about women having their hair cut forcibly by Islamic fundamentalists for not covering it up.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
And how! Law enforcement, as noted earlier, is ineffective, and criminals have become more brazen---likely because they feel much more confident that they can get away with theft, robbery, sexual assault, etc. The security situation in North Africa and Sinai has created an Egypt in which there is no shortage of guns and other dangerous toys---and bad guys willing to use them. It isn't at all clear whether a large-scale attack against Westerners hasn't occurred because there is a lack of capability or a lack of will. Uncertainty about the security environment has created a tremendous amount of stress among expats and Egyptians alike.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I wouldn't have any medical procedure done here that required anything beyond the capability of the mission medical unit. Hepatitis is a problem, as is sanitation overall.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Awful. Some days the air is so bad you can barely make out the buildings on the other side of the Nile. Respiratory problems are commonplace. I struggle breathing sometimes.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot in the summer but surprisingly cool in the winter. Not cold, mind you, but there are mornings where you want a jacket.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a number of them, including a British school and an American school. Parents, by and large, seem satisfied, although some have told me that the quality of education and student body compositions have changed significantly since the revolution. I can't really speak to that, as I arrived after Mubarak's ouster.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Cairo American College runs Little League baseball and soccer, among other things.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Not as large as before the revolution, but there are still a fair number of expats here.
2. Morale among expats:
Among those I interact with it is very poor. Pessimism about the situation pervades life here. People don't feel safe and don't see any prospects that Egypt is going to improve in the near-term future. Even some long-time residents are packing up and heading elsewhere.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Depends on how much home entertaining you do, how adventurous you are, and how comfortable you feel wandering about after dark.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
No. This isn't a good city for anyone right now, and almost everyone I know is either counting the days until they leave or investigating the possibility of cutting their time here short.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely not. Period.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Absolutely. Coptic Christians, as can be read in the press, are heading for the exits. There is a great deal of anxiety about the emergence of a country governed by Sharia law that even moderate Muslims share. Women are treated barbarically, sexual assault---of the most gruesome variety--- is skyrocketing. Domestic abuse is common.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
None to date. The security situation has placed a number of locations I'd like to visit---including the bulk of the Sinai---off-limits. I don't dive, don't particularly enjoy touristy seaside resorts, and haven't had a chance to visit Upper Egypt yet (which I'm sure will be worth the trip). But otherwise, the fluid and unpredictable security environment has made me cautious about wandering about.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
When the situation permits, traveling to the historic sights in Egypt, although those I've visited so far have generally been filthy and overrun by overly-aggressive vendors. Any time someone has a chance to rip you off, they will. And that's particularly true for foreigners. Red Sea resorts are nice, from what I understand, if you are into that sort of thing. I don't dive, but I understand diving is spectacular.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Furniture, carpets, papyrus paintings, pottery, and glass.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Its proximity to interesting tourist destinations.
11. Can you save money?
Yes. The pound is plummeting here against other foreign currencies, and I frankly don't find all that much to blow money on here except travel and furniture.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. And when I leave, it will be with the intention of never returning. I had wanted to come to Egypt for quite some time, and it's been a major disappointment.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
romanticized ideas about what Egypt is like. Even Arabs who visit here for the first time are shocked, particularly now, at the filth, deteriorating infrastructure, and significantly degraded security environment.
3. But don't forget your:
camera -- although taking pictures of the wrong things can get you arrested.